Monday 7 October 2019

The Collapsing Depot Part 2 - Scrutiny Process Gagged

Three weeks ago I wrote about the saga of the chaotic bin collection changes and the problems with the Oakleigh Road Depot. I didn't think things could get worse but in Barnet that is always a foolish assumption to make. On Thursday we had a Policy and Resources Committee. One of the late additions to the agenda was a report about the problems at the Oakleigh Road Depot with a further exempt report kept secret from the public. The public report gave outline details of the problem, which in summary is that there is a massive crack in the main roadway caused by part of the site slipping down the slope on which the depot is built, and pinned the blame on Willmott Dixon. The solution is as follows and will take 6 months to undertake:

"The current remedial works proposal constitutes a contiguous piled wall, from the rear of the footpath and stretching from the gatehouse in the North and to the South of the fuel station. This piled wall will be reinforced with reinforced capping beams and ground beams. In addition, this wall will be secured by ground anchors driven to a depth of over 16 metres".

They have known about this problem from the week the depot opened and they have already had to introduce a one way traffic system at the depot to avoid driving over the massive crack. As part of the solution, vehicles will have to refuel off site at local garages to avoid unnecessary traffic around the depot fuel tank.  It will also cause some residual waste and recycling rounds to move to Saturdays, to spread traffic movements more evenly across the week. The Council will also have to suspend the winter green waste collections approximately four weeks earlier than usual and require the extension of the opening times of Summers Lane recycling and reuse centre.

What the public report didn't mention (but was in the exempt report) is that, there are plans to reduce the use of the other waste depot in Harrow with all refuse vehicle run out of Oakleigh Road. So not only do we have restrictions but they are also going to increase the number of vehicles using the depot. As part of this relocation Barnet are planning to buy the site immediately behind the depot to accommodate the additional vehicles

Under the new gagging rules residents are apparently not even allowed to submit a written comment of 100 words or less, only a question. Personally I think this is not what was agreed at the originating committee but has been "fine tuned" by officers in the updated constitution. My banned comment was as follows:

"In June 2015 Capita prepared the detailed plans for the site and commissioned site investigations as appended to the planning application.  In June 2016 Capita acted as consulting engineers on a major soil stabilisation project. Capita project managed the depot construction. The site was known to be dominated by made ground. This report seems to entire ignore Capita’s role in this project and the significant fees they have received. There are numerous questions that need to be asked as to how this problem arose. I request this committee to commission an independent investigation into why this situation has arisen".

I also asked four questions which are also banned so I have asked for the to be answered under the FOI act although any responses will of course come far to late to inform decisions made at the committee. These included:
  1. Is there any risk that surface water containing fuel from vehicles can pass directly through the surface cracks and into the ground water without being capture by the oil & fuel interceptors and has the ground water been tested to see if this is happening?
  2. Has the ground movement had any impact on the vehicle fuel storage tank and have any tests been undertaken to ensure there is no risk of fuel leaking from the fuel storage tank?
  3. The site has one or more attenuation tanks. Has any investigation been undertaken to ensure that the integrity of these tanks has been unaffected by the ground movement?
  4. There is a large culvert running under the site. Have any investigations been undertaken to ensure that the culvert has been unaffected by the ground movements?
Now some councillors may say these questions are a waste of money answering, some may say they are politically motivated but from my perspective they are really important, especially when there are residents who live literally metres away from the depot in Coppies Grove.

Given the plan is to extend into the site behind the depot adjacent to the railway line, the reason  for asking these questions is to ensure that we understand how these problems arose and make sure they don't reoccur when the site is expanded.

@BrokenBarnet had one question accepted about this at the committee meeting which was as follows:
Will Capita face any contractual penalties for failures in construction, or project management, in regard to the Depot?  and the response was "There is currently no evidence to suggest that Capita has any liability to the Council in respect of this matter".

Now this ties in with my banned comment where I set out evidence that Capita were significantly involved having carried out a detailed site investigation report back in 2015 and acting as consulting engineers to a soil stabilisation project on the site. In the committee report Capita's name isn't mentioned once yet they were heavily involved in the site investigation and knew of the problems that might cause the subsidence. In their 2015 report they noted that the site and surrounding area originally sloped to the north. However, when the site was originally developed, to create a suitable development platform, fill was imported to raise levels across the majority of the site. This "Made Ground" forms a “wedge” of fill which generally thickens to the north of the site, is up to 7 metres deep and is made up of  clay and sand plus a mixture of "oversize brick, concrete, metal, wood and plastic". They also found pieces of a sheet of asbestos, hydrocarbons and water ingress into the boreholes at quite shallow depths. Photos of the boreholes are in the report with a couple included below:
Now all of those things should have been ringing alarm bells if the site was to be used daily by a large numbers of heavy vehicles. As part of the depot development, soil stabilisation works were carried out with Capita acting as the consulting engineers.
In addition, it is important to understand that Capita were the project managers for the depot development so should have been aware of the issues of the site throughout the construction by Willmott Dixon. Barnet say there is currently no evidence that Capita have a liability to the council on this matter but I would suggest there is evidence that should at least be examined, especially if Capita are to project manage the extension of the depot.

What this also suggests is that less than 12 months after a massive and disruptive waste round reorganisation that was predicated on having two depots, one at Oakleigh Road and one in Harrow,  we now face having to review all of those rounds again, once we are back to a one depot solution, this time in the East of the Borough.

The shutting down of any debate on this is a very serious matter but Barnet seem happy that there is absolutely no public scrutiny of a critical and expensive public service. This seems to be the Barnet way and it is unacceptable.

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